The 7 most spectacular images from the first year of the James Webb Space Telescope
A little over a week had passed since Independence Day celebrations, but the crowd that had gathered NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland was like excited like any audience at a fireworks display. They were there because the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a marvel of technology launched last December, had finally returned remarkably beautiful and detailed images of the universe. Now the public was about to see them for the first time – and literally witness history in the making.
Since that historic day in 2022, more and more images have been released by NASA of the JWST, and astronomers and laymen alike have been repeatedly amazed. Considering it cost a total of $10 billion by the time construction was completed in 2016, it’s a relief that the telescope finally lived up to its hype.
To celebrate this milestone for astronomy, we’ve put together seven of the most memorable JWST images from 2022 – its first year of operation. They range from images of the most distant galaxies ever seen to images of our own solar system at an unprecedented depth.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has produced the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date. This image of the cluster of galaxies SMACS 0723, known as Webb’s First Deep Field, is bursting with detail. (NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI)To start this list off right, let’s start with SMACS 0723, as that was the first image produced by the JWST in color. More importantly, SMACS 0723 is the clearest and most complete infrared image of the universe ever captured by a telescope.
“This image covers a patch of sky about the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length. It’s just a small slice of the vast universe,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson explained in a statement. statement.
Historically, infrared light has been the most difficult part of the electromagnetic spectrum for astronomers to observe, at least from the ground. Earth’s heat itself generates infrared light, which is then scattered through the atmosphere, making it virtually impossible for astronomers to see infrared with ground-based telescopes. However, the JWST is freed from the confines of Earth and as such from the need to peer through Earth’s infrared light.
2. Carina Nebula
Star forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula (NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI)
Known technically as NGC 3324, this part of the Carina Nebula could at first glance be mistaken for a modified image from a drone shot looking down at where the beach meets the ocean. Yet the reddish-brown “sand” in this image and the blue “water” are actually individual stars intermingled from an emerging stellar nursery. The Carina Nebula isn’t that far away (especially compared to the previous image): it’s part of our Milky Way galaxy, specifically in its Carina-Sagittarius arm. This particular viewpoint is also known as the Cosmic Cliffs.
“These observations of NGC 3324 will shed light on the process of star formation. Star birth propagates over time, caused by the expansion of the eroding cavity,” NASA writes. “As the bright, ionized rim moves into the nebula, it slowly pushes into the gas and dust. If the rim encounters unstable material, the increased pressure will cause the material to collapse and form new stars.”
3. Stephan’s Quintet
Galaxy group “Stephan’s Quintet” (NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI)
Located in the constellation of Pegasus – named after the famous winged horse of Greek mythology – Stephans Quintet is more or less what it sounds like: a group of five galaxies, four of which form the first compact group of galaxies ever discovered. However, thanks to the JWST, scientists can see both these galaxies and the surrounding celestial bodies in unprecedented detail. The images show that two of the galaxies are currently merging and give us insight into how galactic interactions could lead to star formation.
“The image also shows outflows driven by a black hole in Stephan’s Quintet in a level of detail never seen before,” NASA’s communications team said of the image.
4. The Tarantula Nebula
Tarantula Nebula Star Forming Region (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO)
This is an image of the Tarantula Nebula, also known as 30 Doradus, although many have likened it to an abstract portrait of a man sitting cross-legged. In reality, this is another interstellar nursery, one captured in unprecedented detail thanks to the JWST’s infrared cameras. The Tarantula Nebula is located about 161,000 light-years away from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is best known for hosting black hole VFTS 243, the first to be discovered outside the Milky Way galaxy that does not radiate strongly. The hottest and most massive stars known to man are also found in the Tarantula Nebula.
“The cavity of the nebula at the center of the NIRCam image has been eroded by searing radiation from a cluster of massive young stars, which glow pale blue in the image,” NASA explained on its website. Only the dense surrounding regions of the nebula resist erosion from the powerful stellar winds of these stars, which form pillars that appear to point back toward the cluster. These pillars contain forming protostars, which will eventually emerge from their dusty cocoons and in turn the mist.”
5. The Southern Ring Nebula
Two cameras aboard Webb captured the latest image of this planetary nebula, cataloged as NGC 3132, and known informally as the Southern Ring Nebula. It is about 2500 light years away. (NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI)The Southern Ring Nebula could easily be mistaken for a tentacleless jellyfish. The only features that could ruin such an illusion are the waves emanating from the central core. Is this a space monster or a throbbing new type of celestial body?
In fact, this is a nebula — the Southern Ring Nebula to be exact.
Officially named NGC 3132, a planetary nebula forms when a dying star expels large amounts of mass over a period of successive waves, such as the one seen in these images. This image is notable for its interesting backstory: After it was released, astronomers focused on a narrow filament near the top of the nebula that is radially aligned and appears blue in the near-infrared image. While some scientists don’t believe it to be anything remarkable, others speculate it could be an edge-on galaxy. After further investigation, it turned out that this filament was indeed an edge-on galaxy.
Thanks to more recent research from JWSTscientists now also know that “there were at least two, and possibly three, more invisible stars that made up the elongated, round Southern Ring Nebula. In addition, by linking Webb’s infrared images to existing data from ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) Gaia Observatory, researchers were able to accurately determine the mass of the central star for the first time. before it created the nebula.”
6. “Aroused” Southern Ring Nebula
Webb’s image tracks scattered molecular outflows from stars in the Southern Ring Nebula that have moved further into the cosmos (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO)
The JWST took another image of the aforementioned nebula with a camera at a different wavelength and found something that astronomers previously didn’t know about the astronomical object — namely that there are at least two or three unseen stars that contributed to making the mist. as we know it today.
As for this image, NASA website explains that “Webb’s image traces the scattered molecular outflows from the star that have reached further into the cosmos” and that “blue and green were mapped to Webb’s near-infrared data taken at 2.12 and 4.7 microns (F212N and F470N) , and red was assigned to Webb’s mid-infrared data taken in 7.7 microns (F770W).” In addition, the astronomers combined JWST data with information from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia Observatory to find out the exact mass of the central star before it created the nebula.
7. A new view of Jupiter
Webb NIRCam composite image of Jupiter from three filters – F360M (red), F212N (yellow-green) and F150W2 (cyan) – and alignment due to the planet’s rotation. (NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS team)
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and the fifth planet from the sun. When you visualize it, your mind probably envisions a giant ball with red, orange, white, and yellow swirling bands. You’re also sure to think of the iconic Great Red Spot south of the equator.
However, using three specialized infrared filters, the JWST gave us new data on Jupiter in 2022 and measured different wavelengths of light emanating from the atmosphere. After translating that data into images — using false hues, such as humans can’t see in infrared — NASA scientists created an unprecedented and detailed image of Jupiter. It allows viewers to observe the auroras, or beautiful light shows appearing in the sky, as they exist in Jupiter’s atmosphere. It also shows winds, storms, and both highs and lows in temperature.
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